Is it cheaper to buy a drinks package on board? Here’s what cruise passengers need to know.

By | March 19, 2024

A latte in the morning here, a piña colada by the pool there. On a cruise, ordering drinks can rack up a high bill before you know it.

While beverages such as water, regular coffee, iced tea and lemonade are generally included in cruise fares, others cost extra. Then drink packages come in handy.

The optional add-ons increase the range of drinks you can order without worrying about being charged every time. But they’re not always worth it, and it can be cheaper to quench your thirst a la carte.

“What I tell clients is: Do the math,” says Rusty Pickett, travel consultant and owner of Shellback Cruises.

What do cruise drink packages include?

“Every cruise line has a different package system,” Pickett said. The packages usually range from more limited soft drink or coffee packages to packages with a wide range of alcohol and other drinks.

Carnival offers a Bottomless Bubbles package with soft drinks and juice. The line is Cheers! the package includes these, plus spirits, beer and wine by the glass for $20 or less, specialty coffee and more (guests can only order one drink at a time and are limited to 15 alcoholic drinks in 24 hours). Carnival also offers wine-specific packages.

Make sure you also read the fine print as there are often restrictions. For example, on Royal Caribbean International ships, drink packages do not include drinks served in licensed Starbucks stores.

How much do cruise drink packages cost?

The Golden Mermaid, a new lounge on Carnival anniversary.

The Golden Mermaid, a new lounge on Carnival anniversary.

Beverage packages are typically priced per person per day and are sold for the duration of a cruise. Starting prices vary, but can range from $10 to $15 for soda and specialty coffee packages to more than $100 for packages with alcohol. Pickett also noted that a number of lines have increased drink package prices in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The aforementioned Cheers!, Carnival’s most comprehensive package, starts at $59.95 per person, per day, while the Bottomless Bubbles package starts at $6.95 for children and $9.50 for adults. During a recent cruise on the line’s newest ship, Jubilee, cocktails at the new venues cost Dr.Inks, Ph.D. and The Golden Mermaid $14 a la carte, plus 18% tip. Beverage packages generally include gratuities, Pickett said.

The most I earned in one day on Jubilee – for two lattes at the JavaBlue Cafe and Marina Bar on board; two bottles of water in my stateroom; and one cocktail at the Marina Bar that evening (plus additional tips I added) – was $34.86.

“When (customers) want to talk about it, it’s usually about how much you drink per day,” says Valerie Dorsey, franchise owner and travel consultant at Cruise Planners. “And if you only have one or two drinks, even at $15 per drink, it’s still cheaper than buying a $100 per day pack.”

Regular cruise lines can offer lower prices if guests purchase a package in advance, according to Dorsey (luxury lines tend to include more in their rates, including drinks). Operators can also bundle them as part of other offers.

Even if it’s not for cost savings, Pickett and Dorsey both said some travelers are attracted to beverage packages because of the convenience. “They’re willing to pay money because they won’t be fooled when they go to the bar,” Pickett said.

Does everyone in the cabin have to get the drinks package?

Often, all guests of legal drinking age in the same stateroom are required to purchase a beverage package if an in-cabin guest purchases one, including the Cheers! package and the Deluxe Drinks Package from Royal Caribbean.

Can I buy a mid-cruise drinks package?

Even if you don’t buy a drinks package in advance, you’re not out of luck. Passengers may be able to purchase these after boarding, depending on when they make the purchase.

For example, Royal Caribbean sells drink packages on the first or second day of cruises of four nights or longer; for sailings of three nights or less they are only sold on the first day. Celebrity Cruises (also part of Royal Caribbean Group) now sells them up to three days before the end of a cruise.

Prices would be calculated pro rata per day.

Can I bring my own drinks on a cruise?

Yes, depending on what it is. Beer and spirits are not allowed, but guests can bring wine or champagne to enjoy while sailing – although Dorsey warned they will likely have to pay corkage if they want to drink it outside their cabin.

Princess Cruises, for example, charges $20 “if guests wish to consume their wine or champagne in the public areas of the ship,” according to the passage contract.

Guests may also be able to bring non-alcoholic beverages such as bottled water, soda and milk, but policies vary by line.

Dorsey also noted that if guests don’t mind going without espresso drinks or cocktails, they can choose not to purchase a drinks package at all. “I tell customers, ‘You don’t have to spend extra money on a cruise if you don’t want to.’ ”

Nathan Diller is a consumer travel reporter for USA TODAY based in Nashville. You can reach him at ndiller@usatoday.com.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Are cruise line drink packages worth the price? Not necessary

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